One of our favorite places for a fun day trip is Edgerton Explorit In Aurora, Nebraska. This is not our first visit, but the first time we documented our time there. Nebraska has some really great Children’s Museums, but Explorit has a twist! It’s science themed. While the other children’s museums have STEM or STEAM exhibits, Explorit is all hands-on science – and they do it well. All kids can enjoy this hands-on science and for our little science nerds – it’s a dream come true!
Location and history
Named for the late “Doc” Harold Edgerton, a former resident of Aurora, Nebraska, his
relatives and Aurora community members made significant donations for Explorit to exist. Doc grew up in this small Nebraska town and went on to be a famous inventor, creating the light technology that contributes to modern photography and was a professor at MIT. Aurora is just off the interstate – so heading 3 miles north gets you there – on the main drag through town. They have a nice little picnic patio area on the side of the building for those who do not visit in January, like we did! Although the building has a front door, no one seems to use that. Everyone just goes in the side door because it’s right next to the parking area.
Walking through the side entrance, bathrooms and classrooms/presentation space align a long hall. There are coat racks along this hall as well. Then, one enters the rotunda dome (which is the first thing you see if entering by the front door). If you speak softly at one end of this dome, another person can hear it on the other side. This rotunda has all sorts of science based toys – mostly for sale, but also available for kids to experiment with, lots of look at and a few more things to do. The main desk welcomes visitors and checks them in and the play area is behind this front desk in a large room. There is another hall past the rotunda that features some of Doc Edgerton’s work and experiments, as well as leading to the Plainsman museum.
The main part of Explorit is just a large room with lots of stuff to do. However the exhibits are fairly nicely spread out. There are some favorites that our boys enjoy every time we come and the occasional change to keep things interesting. A favorite for all is the giant bubble maker. This is a simple exhibit – just a giant hoop and a wading pool full of bubble solution – but not exactly something that you are going to have at your home. Another simple but fun exhibit – the “air cannon” made out of a trashcan and some PVC pipe. The giant bubble tubes always catch my interest – you can change colors with the touch of a button and they make for some fun photography! The giant cord operated rain cloud and accompanying sound effects are a favorite of our oldest. A favorite of our middle sons’ is the spinning table. It is just a spinning disc with wooden balls – depending on how they are placed on the table, they may rotate for a while or zoom right off. Of course, there are some basic toys – like a Mr. Potato head table and some toy vehicles and trains – these are great for younger kids. There’s a music pad area that a person can pound out their favorite tunes on – and there’s even laminated basic sheet music with favorite melodies. A tube stretches across the museum top connecting a funnel like tube at one end with another on the other and kids can actually play a giant game of “telephone.”
More high tech
A special exhibit is the flight simulator. They do ask that each person only take one free turn at this, but you then have 5 minutes to use a multi-computer program and a chair/cockpit that actually moves to simulate flight. It’s very realistic. My husband takes this more seriously where my 8 year old prefers to purposely “crash the plane” when time is running out. Newly available is the Mars Rover. For about the first year or two of our visits to Explorit, this exhibit was out of commission, but we were pleasantly surprised at this visit to find that they had replaced the previously broken Rover, and our boys had a blast using the electronic controls on the side of a boxed in Mars terrain-simulation to drive the Rover. Again, it was very interactive and realistic!
On a large powerpoint projector above the exhibit flashed fun facts about Mars exploration. I guess when you allow kids to use expensive, high-tech equipment you risk it being broken, but otherwise, this place wouldn’t be so cool! The robotic arm works like those games used to grab toys as a prize, but with blocks and other objects instead, and has unlimited tries – it’s great for some coordination practice. Our oldest also loved the interactive robotics pieces that he could experiment with!
One of my favorite areas is a large box filled with sand that has a projection of water and land terrain from above. You move the sand around and can see mountains forming, valleys created and rivers starting. It’s a great lesson in geological formation/earth science geography! Physical movement is encouraged by an interactive floor pad that moves when you do. It counts your steps and calories burned and give kids a chance to “step on” projected characters on the floor. A real “bed of nails” and a gigantic “Operation” game add to the fun. A glow wall and a booth that you can enclose yourself in and draw on the walls with a laser pen are available as well. I also love the giant domino table. While watching the boys play, I lost myself setting up elaborate dominos. A girl who was about 10 years old came and joined in the fun and we set up lots of dominos. Unfortunately, I think we were both getting weary toward the end because we kept knocking over dominos, so our final domino run was not nearly as impressive as we would have liked!
A place for all
Explorit is set up nicely for parents and caregivers. It’s easy to see all over the room and there are plenty of benches for parents to rest on while the kids play. Now, I can see why a teenager might not like to come every weekend, but young children could come regularly and have agreat time. Even as an adult, I enjoy “playing” with the exhibits and I bet even that teenager would once in a while. Certainly, the parent or caregiver who needs a little break can just let their charges run free and enjoy!
Explorit hosts birthday parties and actually, even though we live an hour away, we bought a membership this past year for that reason. It was worth it if we came three times in a year since we decided we wanted to have our sons birthday party here and having a membership provided a large discount. Our oldest got to pick 2 experiment demonstrations for his guests to enjoy and cake and ice cream were provided. School (including home school) events are often held here, making it a popular destination for visitors from quite a distance away and summer camps and other special events make it a thriving business for the town of Aurora.
We have always been so busy with Explorit, that we have not had a chance to visit the
Plainsman Museum, which adjoins Explorit, or the historic home or Wesley Huenefeld
Agricultural Museum which are right in the area, but certainly, you could make a day of visiting these stops if you wanted more to do!